The twelve stories in Opening Worlds take you into many different cultures and introduce you to a wide range of people, traditions, beliefs and ways of living. The exam questions for both English and English Literature require you to respond to the presentation of different cultures and to make links between the stories.
English: The six stories you will study are:
The Pieces of Silver The Young Couple Games at Twilight
The Red Ball Leela’s Friend The Winter Oak The main assessment objective you will cover is to read literature from other cultures and traditions.
English Literature: You will study all twelve short stories:
Dead Men’s Path The Train from Rhodesia Two Kinds
Snapshots of a Wedding The Gold-Legged Frog The Tall Woman and
her Short Husband
The Pieces of Silver The Young Couple Games at Twilight
The Red Ball Leela’s Friend The Winter Oak The main assessment objective you will cover is to relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions.
It is important to be aware of the different cultures and ways of living presented in these stories. However, it is more important to be aware of how each writer presents the different cultures to us in the stories. You must, therefore, read the stories carefully and more than once!
The Pieces of Silver - Karl Sealy
The story: Pieces of Silver begins as the school bell is rung and the boys line up in the playing field for inspection by their teachers.
An assembly is called where the acting head, Mr. Chase, asks for contributions to the retiring head’s present. The retiring head is called Mr. Megahey.
The boys give their contributions, although many of them are poor and their families cannot afford to part with any money. The boys who do not contribute are brought up onto the stage and humiliated by being marked with a white X on their foreheads. They are told that if they do not contribute to the collection the following day they will suffer further humiliation.
Clement, who is one of the boys singled out by Mr. Chase, goes home to his family to ask for some money. His father refuses, however, because they are poor and need all the money they have for themselves.
Evelina is Clement’s sister; they are close and she cares for her brother like a mother. She supports him by suggesting that they go singing to raise some money. They do this and raise a decent sum of money. The last house they call at is a pretentious red brick building which turns out to be the home of the retiring headteacher, Mr. Megahey. He gives them a generous donation of sixpence, their biggest of the night.
The next day at school Mr. Chase eyes the boy’s bowed heads’ as they stand on the platform in anticipation of further humiliating them. To his surprise, Clement presents eight pieces of silver to him saying ‘there is one for each of us’. The final impression we are left with is one of hope and triumph.
The action of this story covers twenty-four hours in the life of Clement Dovecot from one morning at school to the next.
the cruelty of officials
suffering and hardship
Impressions of Clement’s school:
the boys are reluctant to attend and live in fear of punishment
the teachers are casual, self-important and badly educated themselves
the pupils are drilled as if they are in the army
the discipline is violent and unfair
the teachers enjoy humiliating their pupils
Impressions of Clement’s home:
his family has very little to eat
their home is tiny and run down
they have very little money to spend
the children have to make do with what they have got
Evelina was unable to carry on with her schooling
the use of contrast – different characters and settings
the presentation of the Headmaster in ‘Dead Men’s Path’.
the effects of poverty on family life in ‘The Gold-Legged Frog’.
Characters – what are they like?
he is ‘stout and pompous’
the smaller boys ‘straightened and stiffened under his cold gaze’
when he sings he emits ‘an untrue, faltering note’
he shows the ‘gleaming gold of his teeth’
he is ‘fierce-eyed and unsmiling’
he threatens the boys with the ‘lash’
he enjoys making the ‘hapless boys the laughing stock of their schoolfriends’
he eyes their ‘bowed heads in enjoyment’
she picks at her ‘coarse food’
she has a ‘close bond of understanding and companionship’ with Clement
Clement feels the ‘cheering warmth of her arms’
she listens to him ‘as attentively as a mother’
she puts her lips down to his ‘harsh curls’
her voice is ‘clear and true’
she lets out the laughter that has been ‘welling inside her’
she says ‘Now I going to tell you how we’ll fix that brute, Mr. Chase.’
The plot – conflicts and twists: Clement has to stand on the platform in assembly, with a cross drawn on his forehead, and is made to recite a speech on ingratitude in front of 400 pupils.
In view of this you should consider:
Mr. Chase’s treatment of Clement
the idea of forcing children to give money for the Headmaster’s leaving present
the reasons why Clement is unable to make a contribution
The irony of a boy like Clement giving money to a man like Mr. Megahey
The Red Ball - Ismith Khan The story: The Red Ball is about Bolan, a young boy who moved to Port of Spain, (the capital city of Trinidad), with his parents.
The story begins with Bolen sitting in Woodford Square on his own. Some other boys ask him to play cricket. Bolen hesitates at first but then he accepts the offer to join in the game in the park. When everyone agrees that Bolan is a good player they ask him to play with them again the following day; Bolan feels that he has been accepted by the boys.
Bolen takes money from his dad to buy a cricket ball which he uses to play cricket with his friends. Bolen is happy that he has become part of the group. However, Bolen’s family is very poor and his father beats him for taking the money. This is one of the themes of the story – poverty. Bolen’s mother explains to his father why he took the money and Bolen’s father apologies to him. He does this in his own unique way by going to Bolen in the middle of the night and telling him that he loves him.
* * *
The story is presented to us almost entirely from Bolan’s point of view. However, in line 286 we are given his mother’s point of view; this gives us insight into her character and her understanding of her son.
poverty and hardship – the suffering which poverty brings.
feeling left out – the need of the individual to belong.
adjusting to new situations – the difficulty of adapting to a new home.
parents and children (love and conflict) – the need to be loved and appreciated; the differences between fathers and mothers.
extreme poverty suggested through dialogue – conversations about money, the names Bolan is called, Bolan’s admiration for the cricket set, descriptions of living conditions.
negative verbs/adjectives that suggest unhappiness
contrast – between unhappiness and joy. i.e. the grace and power of Bolan’s bowling.
symbolism (the use of one thing to represent another) – the use of the green statue at the start of the story which we are reminded of again at the end.
point of view
Characters – what are they like? Bolan:
lonely - He watches the boys playing cricket every night.
dignified - He refuses to answer to the names the boys give him.
sensitive -He touches the powerful-looking statue.
proud - He refuses free black pudding from the vendor.
desperate – he takes the money to buy the red ball.
generous – he pays for black pudding for all the boys.
defends her son strongly.
stands up to her husband and stops him from taking out his frustrations on Bolan.
a loving and protective mother.
she knows Bolan is unhappy in the city.
her character is in strong contrast to Bolan’s father.
a drunken and violent bully.
he is just as miserable as Bolan.
he is embarrassed by his poverty and lack of education.
has his family’s best interests at heart – he has moved to Port of Spain for their sake.
proud of the honest reputation of his family.
worries about money and feels a sense of failure.
loves his son deeply but finds it hard to show his feelings.
Links with other stories: Games at Twilight – the presentation of childhood and the feelings of the children.
The Pieces of Silver – poverty and the feelings of children.
The Young Couple – Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala The story:
The story begins on a happy note when Cathy and Naraian go to India. They are full of hope and have great plans for the future. On arrival they look for somewhere to live and seek work for Naraian as they wish to be dependent and not live in the family home. They see life in India as a challenge and they are envied by all their friends. However, the seeds of discontent have already been sown as we see Cathy’s role as being a traditional one with her staying at home while her husband goes out to work. We also see the beginning of ‘the family’s’ influence.
The couple enjoy a varied and exciting social life which revolves around Naraian’s friends. For Naraian this is nothing new; it is simply an extension of the life he enjoyed while he was single when he and his friends used to sit around discussing politics and other issues surrounding the country.
We soon see signs that Cathy is beginning to tire of this life. Naraian’s behaviour with her begins to change and he becomes less affectionate towards her, particularly when he is with his friends. These friends irritate Cathy and we become aware of the difference in culture that Cathy has to get used to. The men in India are not used to treating women as equals socially. They are polite to her but no more than that, and Cathy finds this difficult to deal with. The irony is that she sees it as an insult whereas the men are simply showing her the respect they would give any woman in her position. This shows how behaviour expected in one country is completely different to that expected in another country.
Naraian does not notice any of this because he is used to it. He also treats Cathy differently to when they were in England. He is less affectionate in public and criticises her for the way she dresses, especially if he considers it inappropriate. These things irritate Cathy no end and as all the original excitement she felt wears off she begins to feel trapped. Naraian’s family do not help the situation. They see themselves as a modern and progressive family and the fact that they have accepted Cathy into the family proves this, but they still like to maintain control on their son’s life and despite his independence they still have a strong influence on the decisions he makes.
Every Sunday Cathy and Naraian go to the family home for lunch and there is usually and argument about Naraian living away from the family home and him not being involved in the family business.
Cathy begins to feel oppressed and claustrophobic in a way that she never felt in England. Not surprisingly, their relationship begins to deteriorate. They start to bicker about things and Naraian becomes dissatisfied with Cathy’s housekeeping.
Cathy’s pregnancy is the turning point in the story and the point at which the family start to take control over their lives. Cathy allows them to do this and willingly takes part in family ceremonies. The next stage is Naraian’s acceptance of a job with the family which Cathy doesn’t know about. Cathy’s misery in conveyed by the fact that when she closes her eyes she can still see the family in her mind. Naraian also becomes frustrated and less tolerant of Cathy. He has failed in his dream to be independent and has had to compromise instead. Cathy knows she will be out-witted in any protests against the family and so she goes along with everything to keep the peace.
The family is presented to us as being all powerful. We see the family as being intrusive, yet they are only doing what they think is right for the young couple. Despite all their problems, however, Cathy and Naraian still love each other. They realise that it doesn’t matter where they live as long as they are together. At the end of the story the couple kiss passionately but even as they are locked in each other’s arms we get the impression that Cathy is still not happy. She is trapped within this claustrophobic existence with this family because of her love for Naraian. At the end it is still Cathy who has had to accept the change, not her husband.
* * *
Most of the story is told from Cathy’s point of view. This helps us to share her feelings and sympathise with her. We also share Cathy’s standpoint as an outsider and it also helps build suspense in that information is withheld from us as well as Cathy.
powerful descriptions – of food, the parents, furniture.
powerful imagery, especially water imagery
Links with other stories: The Red Ball – family relationships
point of view
Leela’s Friend – R.K. Narayan The story: The story begins when the Sivasanker family hire a servant called Sidda. Sidda is a likeable boy who gets on well with the family and becomes particular friends with Leela, the daughter. Sidda and Leela play together and after a while they become close.
One day the family notices that Leela’s necklace has gone missing. After some thought they realise that Sidda must be to blame and the mother accuses him of stealing the piece of jewellery. She is so convinced of his blame that she even tells the police what he has done.
Sidda is arrested and charged with theft even though there is no proof of him having done anything wrong. Leela is very upset. She doesn’t care about the necklace. She just wants her friend back so they can carry on playing the way they used to.
Sometime later Leela finds her necklace hidden in a pot. She tells her family what has happened and everyone realises that Sidda is not a thief after all. However, the story ends without Sidda receiving an apology.
poverty and class divisions
the cruelty of officials
he is vague about his previous employer
he makes false claims about the moon and misleads Leela
he is uneducated and illiterate
he is guilty at the mention of the chain and then runs away
they are generous with their daughter – they give her a gold chain
they give her many things – books, crayons, a companion to play with
they are concerned for the safety of their daughter
Links with other stories: The Gold-Legged Frog – injustice and poverty
The Train from Rhodesia – class divisions
Games at Twilight – childhood experiences
Point of view
Games at Twilight – Anita Desai The story: At the beginning of the story it is a very hot day and all the children are confined indoors. The language used conveys the sense of restriction and claustrophobia they are experiencing and the impatience of childhood is effectively conveyed to us through the choice of verbs the writer uses.
The children are finally allowed to play outside because the mother is also feeling the heat of the day and can no longer struggle against the children when they are wailing so horrendously. Most parents would give in under such insistence; they know they are being manoeuvred and yet give in for a quiet life.
The children’s behaviour when let loose is typical of children anywhere. This gives us some idea of the relief that they felt at escaping their confinement. The main business of their day is play. This reminds us that play is a serious business to children. They decide to play hide and seek. This game is played everywhere all over the world and the way the children behave is also universal. They argue about who should be ‘it’ and when the playful fighting gets more serious we are reminded of how we have all at some time in our lives been told that it ‘will all end in tears’.
As in any group there is always a peacemaker, in this case, Mira. She is the oldest sister. She splits them up and makes the play fair by splitting the group up and deciding who should be ‘it’ by chanting a count down sequence. In this we feel the intensity of such games and in the way children behave. Raghu still protests, however, accusing the other children of cheating and again, we see this as typical children’s behaviour.
The children are selfish; they are all for themselves. ‘Small Manu’ is left behind and we feel the loneliness he experiences at being the youngest. He is undecided and cannot make up his mind where to hide. We share his sense of panic and fear and empathise with him at being caught so quickly.
The behaviour of the oldest, Raghu also strikes a chord and we understand what it is also like to be the older child who treats the younger ones with disdain in order to assert their authority. He wants to strike fear in the others and make them tremble.
Much of the story concerns Ravi. Again we can identify with the way he behaves whatever our background. We are given images of Ravi’s sense of smallness as he tries to decide where to hide and his inferiority. He sees himself as a small burrowing animal seeking security in his hole. He also compares himself to his older brother who he clearly admires. He admires Raghu’s skill as a footballer and envies him in the way that any younger boy would see his older brother as a role model. However, his smallness is also conveyed; we sense his dejection, the way he cannot reach things and the way he hides amongst discarded household items as if he has been thrown away as a lower form of life.
When he realises that he isn’t going to be eaten alive we also see his confidence grow and we experience his delight in success and the mixture of exhilaration and fear that we all experience in childhood, whatever country we are brought up in. Ravi has a vivid imagination and this also typifies childhood. His biggest fear is snakes, a fear universal to all mankind regardless of whether or not you happen to live in a country where snakes abound. Children everywhere terrify themselves with their vivid imagination.
Once Ravi has survived these fears he starts to imagine what it would feel like to be the winner. Again we can identify with the fantasies that children build up around an imagined success. This is a natural defence mechanism against our smallness and unimportance. He imagines himself as the centre of attention, surrounded by older children and again we see the universality of this sort of behaviour.
When Ravi realises that he has forgotten one of the most important rules of the game his sense of smallness sets in again. He feels frustrated and disappointed with himself. He ends up behaving like the baby he was trying so hard not to be.
His reception by the adults and the other children make him realise how ordinary he is. The game is over and he hadn’t even been missed. He feels that when he was hidden it was as if he didn’t even exist. No one gave him any thought at all. The enormity of this smallness and lack of importance overwhelms him.
At the end of the story Ravi refuses to join in the game even though the others try to include him. He is too proud. It is not a game he likes and is too much of a contrast to the triumph he had hoped for.
The final sentence in the story effectively conveys his misery. However, despite the fact that he is miserable he is no longer crying. We know that Ravi has grown up and we can all identify with this situation with an experience of our own that makes us do that. Once more we see why childhood experience in this story is so universal.
feeling left out
achievement or disappointment
Characters: There are many children in this story – brothers, sisters and cousins – and there is a clear hierarchy as the children compete for attention.
Main children – Ravi, Raghu, Mira, Manu.
images of life, death and time
images of violence
Links with other stories: Leela’s Friend – the presentation of childhood
The Red Ball – the presentation of childhood games and the boy’s feelings
point of view
The Winter Oak – Yuri Nagibin.
The story: It starts when Anna Vasilevna begins her lesson and greets the pupils. Her attitude towards the children is firm but respectful; there is a friendly atmosphere in the classroom.
She begins work immediately and has clearly grown in confidence as a teacher since last year when she was new and unsure of herself. Her voice is calm and she seems to be enjoying her job.
She realises that one of her pupils, Savushkin, is not in the room and when he walks in late we see that her reaction is one of disappointment rather than annoyance. His lateness reminds her of similar occasions when he has behaved in this way and this, in turn, causes her to think of similar complaints she has had about the boy from the geography mistress. Anna Vasilevna appears to be critical of this older woman’s classroom discipline and the content of her lessons. This shows us that Anna is quick to judge people and feels very self-assured about her own skills as a teacher.
Anna’s lesson is about naming nouns; the children appear confident and quickly move from naming things they are immediately familiar with to those outside the classroom. They name things like, ‘wheel’, tractor, and well’. This tells us something about the agricultural environment in which the children live. Eventually they start naming things in the wider world and Anna’s encouragement in this again shows us her skill as a teacher in developing their confidence.
It is at this point that Savushkin, (who has been quiet up until now), appears to wake up out of a dream to offer his contribution of ‘winter oak’. The rest of the class respond with laughter, but Anna is intrigued by his response, noticing the passion with which he spoke which was unlike the other children. By the end of the story Anna Vasilevna has more understanding of what this tree means to Savushkin. In the meantime she must correct him as he has also used an adjective in his answer and she does this politely asking Savushkin to see her at break.
During this conversation we learn more about Anna. She is exasperated with Savushkin when he cannot give a straight answer to any of her questions and we realise that she is more concerned with his correct use of grammar than what the boy is actually saying. However, we are also shown how concerned she is about her pupils when she offers to visit Savushkin at home.
From the moment they enter the wood Anna Vasilevna takes on a different role. She begins to discover a whole new world – the world of nature – and her response becomes one of excitement and wonder and child-like enthusiasm. When she makes an incorrect observation it is Savushkin who corrects her and she realises that in the forest it is she who is the pupil and Savushkin the teacher. When Anna sees the ‘winter oak’ she continues to be delighted by the world revealed to her by her pupil and her interest increases.
It is Savushkin who reminds her of their appointment with his mother and she is quickly brought back into her role as teacher. She realises how she has been ‘taken in’ by her experience and reminds Savushkin that the route through the forest is clearly not the quickest one. It is at this point that she has her moment of truth and realisation. She reflects on her lessons in the classroom and realises how ‘dry’ they are and how she needs to look at the beauty and richness of the wider world in order to bring new meaning to them.
At the beginning of the story Anna Vasilevna was feeling pleased and slightly self-satisfied about her skills as a teacher and was even critical of other teachers in the school. She now realises that she has a lot more to learn and her understanding of the children reaches a new level.
She thanks Savushkin for the walk and assures him that he can continue to use the pathway as a route into school. When she looks at the ‘winter oak’ for the last time she realises that the most amazing thing in the forest is not the tree itself but the small human being at the foot of it – Savushkin. She has learnt a powerful lesson about the children she teaches – that they are wonderful, future citizens of the world.
* * * The plot appears to be based on the conflict between a dedicated teacher and a difficult pupil. However, the plot changes direction in the forest section.
the cruelty of officials
a culture clash
Characters: The story has two main characters, Anna Vasilevna and Savushkin.
serious about teaching
quick to judge
different – he belongs to the world of nature
personification – of the forest
dramatic short sentences
Links with other stories; Dead Men’s Path – the presentation of the Headteacher
The Pieces of Silver – education
The Young Couple – the change in Cathy’s character
point of view
Bringing the stories together
The exam questions will invite you to refer to more than one story, so you need to do some grouping of the stories as part of your revision. The questions are likely to focus on thematic links between the stories, for example, similar problems, conflicts, ways of life.
Remember that for English you only have to work on the final six stories.
Read the stories again then write a summary of each to remind you what they are about (or use the summary contained in this booklet).
Give each story a new title that helps to remind you of its themes.
e.g. The Young Couple could become Family Domination.
Construct a mind-map that maps out all the stories’ titles and all the links you are able to make between them.
Try to group the stories under broad thematic headings. For example, stories with a theme, and therefore under a heading of Family Relationships, might include:
Pieces of Silver
The Red Ball
The Young Couple
Games at Twilight
Other headings to consider are:
the world of the child
You can also establish links between the ways in which the stories are written. This is more difficult but you will gain more marks in the exam if you can make a connection between the styles of different writers and the effects they achieve.
Remind yourself of the stories which use:
a particular character’s point of view
flashbacks, time shifts and long time spans
contrasts – of characters, dialogue, settings
suspense and unexpected twists
striking descriptions of setting or physical appearance
a particular tone – chatty, serious, humorous, ironic, angry
a particular mood – pathos (feelings of sadness), triumph, disappointment